When Riziki and Aziza attended the inaugural meeting of the Camfed Association (Cama) in Morogoro, Tanzania, in June 2005, they were disappointed. Both girls had been to secondary school and wanted to continue their education but their results had let them down and there was no one to fund them. They went to the meeting with hopes of finding a donor.

Instead, the young women heard a different message. Cama officials told them they should not be discouraged. There was something else they could do: business. Riziki, now 23, was dubious. “At first I thought, ‘No way, I am not going to be part of this’. I thought if I hadn’t studied I couldn’t succeed.”

Yet she was struck by listening to Lydia Wilbard, a programme officer for Camfed, a charity that supports girls’ education in Africa and that created Cama to address the lack of opportunities for rural women. “I shared my own experience and told them it was not too late. I wanted to motivate them to think they were not disadvantaged if they had failed their exams or lost their parents,” says Lydia.

Lydia, 28, is an inspirational figure. She exudes a joy that is rare and makes you want to ask what her secret is. She grew up in a rural village in Tanzania. Both her parents died and she supported herself through school. “I was driven by a desire to get out, to be free.”

She succeeded. In 2005 she flew on an aircraft for the first time – to New York to tell her story to the United Nations.

“You had a girl just from a village who was sitting with these people, these big potatoes. And there was my name, Lydia, in wood on the table.”

Riziki returned home from the Cama meeting and started a grocery. At first she made about 3,000-4,000 shillings (about £1.50) a week, selling goods she lugged back on the bus from the food market in Dar es Salaam: tomatoes, tea bags and small fish. “One thing that is a problem with the fish is they smell so much,” she says.

Riziki speaks quietly, her hands demurely clasped in her lap. Yet her modest manner belies her success. After training on how to assess profit and loss, her profits rose to 20,000 shillings a week.

She then applied for a £25 Cama loan, which enabled her to buy more stock. Now, her weekly profits are 60,000-70,000 shillings – 20 times her initial return – and she has ambitions to be a wholesaler.

Her example helped her father to create a business and influenced about 90 girls in the Kibaha area outside Dar el Salaam to join Cama. Her mother says: “So many girls ask how she did it and how to join. They have seen she is not going around with men and is settled.”

The impact this has had on Riziki can be measured in other ways too. At 23, it is unusual for her not to be married. This underlines another of Camfed’s philosophies: that the best way to target family size, early marriage and Aids, is through education and boosting confidence through business training. “The men these days want to get married to a girl who is not economically independent and see this as an opportunity for buruza, (dragging them through the mud) and treating them in whichever way they want,” says Riziki.

Cama has helped Aziza, also 23, secure independence too. She lives in nearby Kwambonde with her older sister, who has raised her for the past nine years following the death of both their parents. Dressed in flip-flops, and nursing her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Nuru, she recalls Cama officials saying, “We don’t need to be doing big things. It could just be a garden that could be a business.”

From selling spinach, Aziza moved to selling phone cards and then saved enough to buy a cow. The family now has four and she has recently put in an order for 200 chicks. She knows the pressures of poverty on uneducated women. “Someone without anything can be cheated (sexually) for such small things . . . Sometimes people do it just to get soap to wash their clothes.”

Her business success means she is not forced to live with her child’s father for her care. “Now I am completely dependent on myself for my life.”

As for Lydia, she is pleased to have inspired others. Teased about her ambitions and asked when she might become president, she laughs: “Just before sunset.”

Camfed: ‘I think I have a bright future’

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